Soccer….Family Style


Pre-Gaming in Salt Lake City
June 17, 2013, 1:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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We got in to Salt Lake City Saturday, and after a day in Park City, Utah living the ski resort in Summer life, we came down to Salt Lake to meet up with AO Salt Lake and AOs from around the US. The back-to-back of Seattle to Salt Lake makes this game especially interesting to me. Everyone expects supporter greatness from Seattle, and I get the sense US Soccer fans have very little idea what to expect here in Salt Lake City. Having traveled here for RSL vs Whitecaps last summer, I knew RSL has some great supporter culture brewing. We had a blast tailgating and watching from the supporters section.

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Chapter President families for AO Des Moines and AO Salt Lake

If your idea of Salt Lake City culture extends from a dry, Mormon based culture, you’re in for a surprise. The Mormons we’ve met are just as much fun supporting with a soda as the rest of their AO SLC family holding beers. At the night before night before party ended up at The Green Pig, a local brew pub that offered not only local beers, but “Adult Trivia Night,” which sounded potentially awkward at first, but ended up being a hilarious way to get to know your fellow AOs….who knows pop culture, who know brand names of sex toys, who knows calorie count of a teaspoon of semen. It was an entertaining night to say the least.

I’ve seen photos of some of the tifo planned, I’ve met a few of the more infamous AO SLC members, including “Bean,” a well known fan of BYU and RSL, and @MessedUpRyan, both made me confident that we’re in for a good time here for the next 36 hours. You might have expected greatness from Seattle, but what I’ve learned to expect to be pleasantly surprised by Salt Lake City. Bring it, SLC.

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Praise and Parenting: a Soccer Mama’s Take on Seattle’s 21st Century Debut

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What a night, huh? The show that Seattle put on Tuesday night was mind-blowingly awesome on so many levels…the pre-party, the march to the match, the songs in the supporters section, and that beautiful, glorious tifo. Seattle deserves a lot of credit for creating one of the best game experiences of my 20 years of following US Soccer. But as I was reading stories about the match from Business Insider, the blogosphere, but in particular, Jerry Brewer’s column in the Seattle Times, I felt like we need a little parenting perspective on this game, and I’m just the soccer mama to do it.

                Seattle, what you did was amazing, but to say this was all Seattle culture, or just a normal night, makes us here in the rest of the US Soccer world a little uncomfortable. Last night wasn’t about Seattle soccer. It was about Seattle hosting US Soccer. Of the 41,000 tickets sold for this match, 15,000 of us came from out of state, a full 37% of the people, according to US Soccer’s presentation at their Official Supporters pep rally. The people that are willing to travel like that to games, to not only pay $50 without complaint, but spring for a $300+ flight and take vacation time….we don’t sit in the upper bowl. That impressive performance in the supporters section came from a diverse group of supporters. Within my arm’s reach were supporters from England (who was noticeably stunned by how far American soccer has come, saying “I didn’t think I’d see anything like this for another five years), Des Moines (Iowa, not Washington), Denver, Portland, and yes, Emerald City Supporters. I had friends in the crowd from DC, Detroit, Kansas City, and more, 49 states represented in attendance, according to US Soccer. We bring the diversity of supporter clubs from all over the USA, and there’s an opportunity to learn from us. I would be so disappointed if I heard my child present their group project at school, but try to make it sound like the project was a success because they were so awesome at making projects, that everyone else’s projects pale by comparison, even as the other members of the group that had done work were standing there. Seattle was amazing last night, in large part due to the tireless hundreds of hours put in by American Outlaws, Seattle chapter, but also thanks to members from chapters around the US, who shouted ideas to Seattle capos and helped keep fresh chants flowing.

                If Seattle does get another game, and I hope they do, I hope they’re a little more open to asking for help. Yes, you do Sounders supporting, week in and week out, and you do it with skill that puts you among the best atmospheres in the US. But there are those of us that do US Soccer, year in and year out, and we love supporting our team as much as you love supporting yours. Just ask nicely, and we’ll help you hang banners and distribute song cards. I really enjoyed last night, working with capos with microphones, and I loved learning new songs that are unique to the Pacific Northwest. You know what would have been awesome? Allowing us out of town capos to teach you some of our songs from around the United States. Because I got “Everywhere we go” started (mic free!) in my section, but if the capo with the mic doesn’t know that that song ends with “clap clap clapclapclap clapclapclapclap USAaaay!” then we all sound silly as it grinds to a halt, as we are all clapping, but the mic guy is launching into the 2nd round of singing. It’s OK for you to learn from us, as we learn from you, it will only make you stronger.

                I have two kids. Would any of you ever seriously ask me which one is my favorite? Of course not. I’ve watched US Soccer in eight countries and 12 states, and I’m not going to pick a favorite, nor should you ask me. I’ll tell you that I love the Member’s Bar and stand at Sporting KC, and I cried last September in Columbus the first time I heard a US Soccer crowd chant throughout the stadium and stand for an entire match, I loved Denver and Tampa, where the crowds faced some of the worst weather I’ve ever dealt with in a match with a wonderful sense of humor and adventure. And I love, that for my 40th match supporting US Soccer, I got to be with you, Seattle, under the most impressive tifo I’ve ever seen. But I wouldn’t say it was my favorite, because I love all those experiences for different reasons. I don’t have to love you “the best,” and by now, you should be confident enough that you don’t need that to feel good about yourself. You are a great soccer city, but you won’t become a greater soccer city until you open your doors and let us share our passion with you. Because the USA chant that everyone is writing about at the end of the match was cool…but what’s cooler? A loud, slow, haunting rendition of “You’ll neeeever beeeat the US (clap!) “You’ll neeeever beeeat the US (clap!) Just throw me the megaphone in the 88th minute next time…I’ll start it up for you.

                I was really proud, even pleasantly surprised, that for the most part, you let your club thing go for a night. I saw very few green shirts in that sea of red, white and blue, and the one capo who dared show up eternal green and forever blue getup (or is it the other way around?) was a good sport about switching to red. You not only did some Portland cheers, you gave them credit where credit was due, probably one of the coolest supporter club moves I’ve seen. It gives me hope that now that you’ve proved yourselves worthy, next time you’ll expand your scope and look at what US Supporters are doing around the US, and welcome our ideas with open arms. Hopefully next time, I won’t hear quite so much about how it’s not worth $50 to see a World Cup Qualifier, and more about how it sold out weeks ahead of the match. I hope next time, it’s like last night, only bigger and better…..although seriously, I don’t know how you’d ever out-do yourselves on that tifo. (Watch the tifo at this link.)


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The crowd in Seattle knows how to pitch in and help fold the Midwest Mama. Thanks to everyone who helped!



Why Simon Borg is Wrong (Again): USMNT Heads to Seattle
June 9, 2013, 2:54 pm
Filed under: International Soccer, Supporter Culture, US Soccer

As a woman who follows soccer, I’ll never pass up an opportunity to correct Simon Borg, so when one of my friends posted a link to his blog defending Seattle’s US Soccer ticket sales, I had to comment. We can agree on one thing: it ain’t over til it’s over, and people need to see what Seattle pulls off Tuesday night before passing judgement. But that’s where it ends.

Here in Seattle, the biggest reasons I’ve heard about why people aren’t going to the game are 1. It’s a Tuesday night, and 2. The $50 ticket is too expensive. I’d like to reframe these: What else do you have going on on a Tuesday that’s more important than the first qualifier to come to Seattle since the 1970s? It’s not like you have a big weekend full of things…it’s a Tuesday, and it’s early enough you won’t even need an extra cup of coffee to get through work the next day…and if you did, it’s Seattle, I’m sure you can find one. $50 may seem like a bunch of money, but the $25 nosebleeds for Sounders are so high even I spent $32 to see the Sounders play last night, and I don’t even LIKE Seattle. In fact, I’m a Timbers fan, but I still coughed it up to see the Sounders play because if you love Soccer, you should WANT to see a game like Seattle vs Whitecaps, just because it’s the Cascadia Cup. $50 buys a supporter level ticket to US Soccer’s match, so yes, you’ll pay more, but this is your ONE CHANCE to see US Soccer play in your home city. It SHOULD be worth a little more to you. Many of us spent hundreds flying in for this match, because Panama is one of the contenders in this year’s qualifying, for $50 and an under $3.00 light rail, you can be there too, Seattle! To us out-of-towners, that’s a bargain!

wpid-2013-06-08_21-50-56_345.jpgThen there’s the whole club vs country thing. Why do we do this to ourselves? I know, I do it too…I dropped Chicago Fire like a hot potato when they brought in Blanco, and I hate him when he plays for Mexico. I get it. HOWEVER… I encourage you to do as I did last night: instead of looking for reasons to not go to a soccer game (club>country), find reasons to watch your country FOR your club. Brad Evans scored a thriller of a game winner just days ago in Jamaica. Do you really want to miss your hometown hero if he repeats that performance on Tuesday? A huge part of the reason I went to see the Sounders game last night was to watch Lamar Neagle, 2007-08 player for my hometown Des Moines Menace play in the big leagues. How devastated would I have been, had I opted to be a Timbers snob, and missed Neagle’s assist, PK draw, and game winning goal? Do you really want to take the chance that you’ll miss Brad Evan’s _______ Tuesday night? Watching your hometown hero live is not at all the same as sitting in front of a TV, Mr. Borg, particularly if you’re simultaneously making the argument that Seattle has one of the best soccer supporter cultures in the US.

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Something like this, only in red, white, and blue, please. Thanks!

Borg writes that we need to look at what’s happening around the world. Sorry, but if we’re not trying to raise the level of soccer, then what are we doing? In a town like Seattle, (I would assume) they’d want to be able to say they do it better than anywhere else in the world. So Tuesday night, bring it, Seattle soccer fans. Turn out in droves for this match, and prove that you’re more than a Sounders city, you’re a soccer city. Let’s sell this sucker out! C’mon US!!



USMNT vs Germany: My “This is Your Life” Game
June 9, 2013, 1:42 pm
Filed under: International Soccer, US Soccer | Tags: , ,

wpid-2013-06-02_15-42-07_376.jpgI knew that USMNT vs Germany would be uber-emotional for me, just based on it being my 20th anniversary as a supporter, and a rematch of my first cap, but as my plans for the weekend started to fall into place, it became almost comical. First, my college roommate from Carnegie Mellon offered me a place to stay and said she’d come to the game with me. Then, I posted to Facebook that I’d be in town, and did any of my DC area friends want to join me at the game? Matt Erickson, owner of 76 Words, and the guy that took me to his prom, asked me to grab him three tickets. So now I’m going to the most meaningful game of my life, with my former college roommate and prom date. I could picture myself at the field, with Alexi Lalas narrating, “Tanya Keith, this is your life!!”

It turns out, that in the very small world of DC business, Scott, my South Africa husband (or rather the guy that our safari staff thought was my husband, urging me to keep him from getting killed by telling him not to go running in the safari park), and ’89 prom date not only know each other, but live less than 2 blocks from each other. While this was very convenient, since Kaela was staying with Scott, it was the first of many strange coincidences of the weekend.

Matt and I headed to the stadium just after 8 AM to hang banners and set up the stadium flag, which took longer than usual, but still got us out to the tailgate shortly before the rest of the crew. Our group set up by the river, which was so pretty, and seemed about 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the parking lot. Somehow, magically, we did not lose any soccer balls in our kick around that was dangerously close to the river bank. As people started showing up, it became clear that there were more than a dozen one degree of separation relationships between Matt and I. In the Venn diagram of soccer fans and DC insiders, there’s heavy, if not total, overlap. In fact, Matt had offered one of his two extra tickets to a guy from our hometown who graduated a few years ahead of us. His friend had declined the tickets, since he already had tickets, but invited Matt to his tailgate….which turned out to be the same tailgate I’d invited him to attend.

We ate, drank, face-painted, and talked, occasionally kicking a ball around. We did one pass through the lot to go visit our friends from New York, and to see my friends from AO RVA. But soon it was time to go into the stadium. When the supporter’s section is GA (general admission), I like to go in 90 minutes before kickoff, but with assigned seats, I had no issue with rolling in barely in time for anthems. It was fun, having the Midwest Mama flag farther back in the section than usual, since people were excited to be a part of the flag management. One guy had on an Ampel Man shirt, winning the subtle reference to German culture. Ampel Man is a graphic design icon from East Berlin, a red walking man that adorned traffic lights, telling you when to walk or stop, don’t cross. How many layers of happiness could I squeeze into one day?

The game kicked off, and the joy of the day was just getting started. In the 14th minute, Jozy Altidore scored on a fantastic shot from in the box. Gleeful giddiness poured out of me. I couldn’t remember ever leading Germany in a match, but before I could collect myself and take a photo of the score board, right in front of me, I saw something I could not believe. A German central defender had the ball at the 18, but was  under pressure, and passed the ball to his wing, who was also under pressure, and made a quick back pass to the German keeper, ter Stegen. Please read this as it is in my head, in the voice on Top Gun, when Maverick gets scolded to “never, never leave your wing man,” YOU NEVER, NEVER BACK PASS ON FRAME! Ter Stegen was immediately under intense pressure from three US attackers, and in a startled moment of indecision, he hesitates, and the ball rolls, impossibly slowly, into the German net. Now we were up 2-0, dos a cero!! It’s not just for Mexico anymore!

After a German goal was called back for being offside, we headed into halftime, up by the most dangerous lead in soccer. I hoped we wouldn’t get over confident and blow the lead, which is risky in how comfortable it seems, but isn’t. When Germany came out and scored once, I thought we were in trouble, but a pair of clinical, beautiful rifle shots from Clint Dempsey put the score at 4-1. What strange new world is this?

But we weren’t done yet. Germany made a late game sub, and with brutal quickness, the score was 4-3, and I was praying that we could hold it through the last seven minutes. It had already occurred to me that this game was almost a perfect flip of the scoring summary from US vs Germany twenty years prior, and now, I wanted my day to come complete full circle. As the players moved from one end of the field and back, I prayed alternately that neither would score, and leave my perfect 4-3 as is. I’d found myself begging the US NOT to score for the first time in my life, then finding them in the German attacking end begging forgiveness, hoping that by thought alone, I hadn’t cost the win by not wanting to run up the score. It was such a long seven minutes. Then…there was that blissful pause, followed by the final whistle and referee signaling the end of the game. They’d done it. US Soccer had made the perfect ending to the perfect weekend, perfect game.



USMNT vs Germany: Public Practice, and How I Finally Met Jürgen Klinsmann
June 9, 2013, 1:24 pm
Filed under: International Soccer, Supporter Culture, US Soccer | Tags: , ,

wpid-2013-06-01_17-11-30_308.jpgI have a rule about not spending money traveling to friendlies during World Cup Qualifying. You have to prioritize somewhere along the line, and I would much rather go to qualifiers, than burn the budget on fun but meaningless games.

But when US Soccer announced that the Centennial Match would be US vs Germany at RFK Stadium in Washington DC, I knew I had to go. I had promised myself that whenever the US next played Germany after Jürgen Klinsmann was hired, I would go, even if the match was played in Germany, and I justified that this expense in the middle of qualifying was probably not as bad as flying to Germany for this game, so I called my DC friends and started searching for a place to stay. That the Centennial coincided with my 20th anniversary as a US Soccer supporter was too good to be true.

My first cap ever was USMNT vs Germany in the US Cup, on June 13, 1993, which I attended as a fan of German soccer, a habit I’d picked up living in Germany for Summer 1989. The ‘93 game was a pivotal moment in my career as an American soccer fan. My hero, Klinsmann scored in the 14th minute, the German machine performing as planned. But then, here was Tom Dooley, putting one in about 10 minutes later for the Americans. The AMERICANS? “They” scored on Germany? Impossible. Soon enough, my Germans had run it up to 4-1, and we were back on plan. But then there were those Americans again…Ernie Stewart scoring in the 72nd minute, and Dooley getting the brace several minutes later. What the hell was going on? I hadn’t even realized that Americans knew how to play legitimate soccer, let alone hold Germany to “just” a 4-3 loss. I was blown away. I walked out, took my Germany hat off, bought a shirt commemorating the game, and that day, became a supporter for US Soccer.

Flash forward 20 years, and I made it to DC. My one goal for coming to DC was to finally meet Klinsmann. My Facebook wall has been littered with friends who met him at the airport, or at practices I didn’t get to town soon enough to attend, or the Centennial Celebration in New York City, and frankly, I was more than a little jealous. After all, I’d been a fan for DECADES, and here were people who had lukewarm trust in Klinsy with photos with him plastered all over Facebook, just mocking me. I was one more Facebook photo away from a full on toddler-force tantrum….something had to be done.

First stop was the Nike Store event in Georgetown, a mob scene of kids who were too big to shove out of the way unnoticed. I tried not to think about the multiplier of the average age to my age, and I got positioned near the front…on the side that ended up the far side of Klinsmann and Tim Howard (my son’s current obsession) and near side to Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. I know, you’re thinking “there’s really not a losing position there.” And you’re right. Every single person on stage was amazing (thanks Nike/US Soccer), but given my goals as a mama and fan girl, I should have been on the opposite side. Taylor Twellman emceed a Q&A, that I half heard over the blood rushing past my eardrums, and then the autograph frenzy began. Nothing organized, with guys signing civilized behind a table, but a mosh pit of youth soccer players and I jockeying for position. I ended up getting Bradley’s and Howard’s autograph for both my kids (go Mom!) but I’m pretty sure Klinsmann vaporized soon after the autographs started. I asked one of my US Soccer contacts if Klinsmann was still in the building, and after checking, he said no, but if I found him at the Public Practice, he would try to help me get my Klinsmann photo.

The next day, I went down to RFK to watch the German practice at 11 AM. I didn’t get super involved, since I can only recognize a few of their players, but had a nice morning chatting with the German ex-pats who were there. I managed to score Louis Podolski’s autograph, but the highlight came as the practice was breaking up, and I noticed Alexi Lalas, walking around with a hard-to-miss purple umbrella to guard against the noon-time sun. I was wearing my 20 year old t-shirt from US vs Germany, having a moment by myself, thinking about my life following US Soccer for the past 20 years, there’s Lalas, one of the players that played for the US in the 1993 game. I called hello to him, and he said hi back, and then said “That’s a shirt from way back.” Thrilled that he’d recognized it (it does show the ’93 USMNT kit), I said, “Yeah, I had to dig way back in the closet for it, this was my first cap.”

Then, Lalas blew my mind. He said, “Tom Dooley had a heck of a game that day, right?”

Are you kidding me? How many games has he played for the US (it’s 96, I looked it up) and how many has he announced, let alone watched, and he had the details from a particular game from 20 years ago? The man knows his soccer, and he signed the US side of my shirt. Take that, Lalas haters.

The day continued to get more and more awesome. Between practices, we were hanging out at the Supporters Club sign in, which was next to the press area. While we waited for gates to open, we were greeted by former Nats goalkeeper Kasey Keller, and ESPN broadcaster Ian Darke. Keller was quiet, but stopped for photos and autographs, and Mr. Darke stayed and chatted with us for a while, talking about just hanging out like a regular guy chatting up soccer. He’s very thoughtful and insightful, and a pleasure to talk soccer with, so I was almost sad when they said it was time to head into the stadium.

We had a relaxed hour, joking with a few of my soccer buddies about various travel (mis)adventure, and about the players putting on a practice show for us. Once the field work was over,  the players were extraordinary, taking lots of time to sign autographs and pose for photos. I met more players than I can fathom, but no Klinsmann. After the session, security started to clear us out, and I began to panic. I had had such a perfect day, only to fail in my ultimate mission? Intolerable. Desperately, I searched the crowd for my US Soccer contact, and shouted to him across the security area. He mouthed “Did you meet him?” I shook my head no. He held up one finger to wait, and took off. I drug my feet as much as possible, and when we were cleared to the stadium seats and asked to leave, I said “I was told to wait here…” and was just about to justify my staying in a last ditch attempt to avoid getting bodily thrown from the stadium, when my contact popped up from the player tunnel and asked security if he could take me with him. They agreed, and I went through, vindicated and beyond excited. I half ran, chasing my contact into the locker room level of RFK. We turned into a hallway, where I recognized several members of the soccer media on one side of a fence. I was told to stand on the other side, just past them. I stood and waited, watching a guy from MLS.com wrapping up an interview. Soon, more players began to funnel down the hallway, some stopping to answer questions, a few pausing to give me a nod. I asked Beasley for a photo, since he is my husband’s favorite, but otherwise, I tried to be cool and just wait. When Dempsey walked by, I must have had a particularly obvious “she’s not press” look on my face, in awe that he was right there in front of me, all by myself. He got a look of recognition on his face, and then, silently walked up, shook my hand, and kept walking, as I stood dumbfounded, managing to squeak out “Wow, thanks.”

By the time I regained my senses, Klinsmann was right in from of me, startling me back to reality. I called out in German, asking “Can I have your…” Dammit. What’s the word for autograph? I came up with “writing” but he was already walking over, thank goodness, able to translate through the IQ lowering effects of fangirl overload. I told him how I’d been a German soccer fan, and came to see him play 20 years ago, how I remembered the goal, and that when the US came back to almost equalize, I became a US Soccer fan, culminating with “I’m a US Soccer fan because of you, and I just wanted to say thanks, and can I get a photo with you?” And that’s how I ended up with my coveted Klinsmann photo, complete with him smiling almost as wide as I am.

My sincerest thanks to my friends at US Soccer who made this photo possible. Following this team has been some of my greatest adventures of the last 20 years.

 




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